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Literature Basics Week

What is Creative Nonfiction?

Creative nonfiction is a popular category choice on deviantaART, and its one of those forms of writing we're exposed to on a much greater scale than perhaps we realise. Creative Nonfiction doesn't mean exaggerating, but making real stories well written. Examples can be found in news articles, biographies, literary journalism, travel/food writing and even personal essays. The scale of what Creative nonfiction covers is large, but its all about good execution that makes this form of writing effective.

I sometimes find it easier to start these kind subjects to discuss firstly what the subject isn't. In a generalisation, there are many people who assume that creative nonfiction is a chance to rant about your real life in an informal way and consider it as creative writing. It is also not technical writing, which falls into its own genre. However, Creative nonfiction goes into a much deeper style of writing, turning those rants into something genuinely creative- created not just for personal expound, but to entertain or move your readers. As most forms of writing, your audience plays a key role. Here is a more expert definition:

One of my favorite words to attach to the art of creative nonfiction writing is the word “actual.” I prefer the word actual to the word truth. Fiction writers insist that they too write the truth, and that they must invent in order to tell this truth. I prefer the word actual to the word fact. Facts alone are too dry, and too absent of association. I prefer the word actual to the word real. What is and is not real is continually up for grabs. Do we know, for instance, what is a real woman? A real man? The word real is too laden with assumption. I prefer the word actual because it refers to simple actuality. We begin a work of creative nonfiction not with the imaginary but with the actual, with what actually is or actually was, or what actually happened. From this point we might move in any direction, but the actual is our touchstone. Barriejeanborich


The term "creative nonfiction" is a simple mashup of two very familiar concepts interlocking to create one form. By "Creative" we mean being able to use the same concepts in writing as you would in normal creative writing- its the good creativity that creates a good rapport with your audience, keeping their interest in your writing. It's what encourages the interest in the facts.

The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people have maintained that being creative means that you pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. This is completely incorrect. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.
"Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!”


Perhaps an easier term for us all to understand, "Non-fiction" simply means accurate and factual. The writing needs to have a baseline of reality to it and that baseline remain continuous in the piece.

Types of Creative Nonfiction

:bulletblack: Personal Essays
:bulletblack: Memoirs
:bulletblack: Literary Journalism
:bulletblack: Travel and Food Writing
:bulletblack: Blogging/Diary writing
:bulletblack: Nonfiction Narratives

Questions for the reader:

:bulletblack: What examples of creative nonfiction have you found, both offline and on deviantART that you've enjoyed?
:bulletblack:  What do you think makes those pieces effective?
:bulletblack: Have you tried writing any creative nonfiction yourself? What was your experience like?

Add a Comment:
SingingFlames Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Creative Nonfiction is some of the most gripping work out there. I love well-written Creative Nonfiction. :)
amour-raven Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Student Writer
I can't recall having read a piece of creative nonfiction lately... I'm unsure if I've attempted to have a go at CNF as well...
cristinewakesuphappy Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
thank you for writing this.
is there a PE article yet about the distinctions between memoirs and diary writing?
i can google it but guys at PE say it best. 
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Creativity is far too often constrained within the confines of fiction.
Ereval Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Curious. I've often tried realistic writing, but I've never consciously written creative nonfiction, and after reading this, I think I should try it. It will be an interesting challenge. Thank you for both the explanation and the inspiration. :)
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
jon ronson mary roach jared diamond callum roberts oliver sacks

I like well told topics that treat the material with appropriate gravitas. I read a lot of science, but not not never pop sci.
SilverInkblot Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I've written a couple of prose creative nonfiction pieces, but most of my CNF tends to turn into poems :XD:
TheMaidenInBlack Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014
It's probably the late hour, but I can't pinpoint any specific nonfiction I read lately. But I'm sure I read something on deviantART from some people I follow, it's more common than I thought it would be. And I write lot of it myself, but most doesn't see the light ever. :XD:

I think what makes them effective is the strength of the emotions poured in them. But it has to be directed towards the right path, exploited the right way, and so on. It needs to become productive and constructive towards the end goal of writing something decent. Unless you're writing for yourself, as a coping mechanism, but yeah.
FerbGuy101 Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014
comedy + facts =
PoesDaughter Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Professional Writer
Word. :)
FerbGuy101 Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2014
south park win
PoesDaughter Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2014  Professional Writer
Yes. :heart:
Braxton-T-Rutledge Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014
David Sedaris, chucky p wrote a collection of essays called stranger than fiction. I'm sure there are others. Oh, and the band played on. Not
fun but an important book.

sedaris is humorous, his short essays read like stand up routines. Chuck picked weird things because he does that. And the Band Played On created dialogue, used a lot of careful research (or what was possuble to do at the time) and personal experiences.

I wrote one personal essay and a few poems of mine began life as essays, but i don'ylt write prose often and have no stomach for revising it sooo...
Activoid Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Professional Filmographer
Thanks for posting this! I was just looking through course catalogs and one was for "Creative Nonfiction" and I couldn't figure out what they meant by that, as often times people seem to think those two words are mutually exclusive. This page really helped explain it further to me! Thank you so much. c:

:bulletblack: "What examples of creative nonfiction have you found, both offline and on deviantART that you've enjoyed?"
I don't read much literary work on DeviantArt, but offline I really enjoy military non-fiction works. My dad bought me a book about flying the F-15 in the Gulf War and it had a lot of really interesting and amazing stories in it about the pilots and crew and the life they lived when they were deployed overseas. I also enjoy reading Cracked; I admire some of the writers' efficiency and sillyness that goes into describing nonfiction stories at times.
:bulletblack: "What do you think makes those pieces effective?"
Making the stories and people easy for anyone to relate to is a big plus in any creative writing... but for me, it's about learning about the aspects of life on this planet that very few people have been exposed to.
:bulletblack: "Have you tried writing any creative nonfiction yourself? What was your experience like?"
Yes, I plan on starting a website blog about it, too! I have a bunch of weird and crazy stories that I just want to publish online, with a few accompanying illustrations, roughly in the same vein of Hyperbole and a Half, where the stories are kept humorous.
SelahDeNoctiluca Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
What examples of creative nonfiction have you found, both offline and on deviantART that you've enjoyed?
I've found some stories of peoples' lives both on dA and off. Most of the offline pieces were from Journalism class during my junior and senior years of high school. I do enjoy reading some things from past events in someone's life if that makes sense.

What do you think makes those pieces effective?
The fact that they are telling a story. They are stories of life that others can relate to. I think that is the important part, being a story teller. (If that makes any sense.)

Have you tried writing any creative nonfiction yourself? What was your experience like?
I have. It's interesting, and sometimes hard when writing down painful memories, but it's much like writing fiction. Either way, I am telling a story.
PrettyOrangeMonster Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Professional Writer
- I actually don't know what types of creative nonfiction I've seen. Like you mentioned, the category's title seems greatly overlooked. When I looked at the list of things considered creative nonfiction, I noted what I'm sure many of us have: I've read memoirs and thoughtful and intellectual blogs. I haven't seen much of that on deviantART, to be honest. The "nonfiction" I've seen tends to be on the "rant" side, not the art side. Which is kind of a shame.

- What makes the effective ones effective is that they sound like "fact" (I know, I know, I'm using those forbidden words barriejeanborich mentioned) but still have the air of a fiction piece. Just as the title suggests, they are written creatively. I think they're especially powerful, though, because of the fact that they're actual events.

- I don't know that I've ever written creative nonfiction before. I have a new idea in my head now about what nonfiction can be, that I hadn't realized it could be... I'm going to make "personal essays" a project to work on. So thanks!
saevuswinds Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Student Writer
Bullet; Black What examples of creative nonfiction have you found, both offline and on deviantART that you've enjoyed?

For online deviantart users, I've enjoyed weaknesses' work dearly. Offline, I've enjoyed Brett Runyon's "The Burn Journals" the most, but I've read some others as well.

Bullet; Black  What do you think makes those pieces effective?

Imagery and honesty. I've found that nonfiction doesn't sugarcoat or cover anything up. If what they felt was an expletive, you're going to read it. I think what I enjoy most is the way imagery is made to be vivid but also just as if they were telling the story to someone else. That balance is something I always struggle with in creative nonfiction--I either put too much or too little.

Bullet; Black Have you tried writing any creative nonfiction yourself? What was your experience like?

Yes! It can be emotional, frustrating, tiring, and soul-breaking. It really all depends on the content and how long ago the event occurred. 
ShadowedAcolyte Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014
I just read "Man's Search for Meaning", the first half of which is autobiographical and about the Holocaust. Very gripping prose. 

I think that nonfiction tends to be effective for the same reasons as fiction: a hooking opener, strong prose style, inviting pacing, and a bang-up conclusion.

Not really. I'm pretty bad at it. I tend to slip into the feels. I have a hard time viewing myself as a character. (Though I am a character, yukyuk!) I much prefer to alter so much that it turns into fiction.

Great intro article to the topic. Loved the quotes. I learned something, which is awesome.
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Professional Writer
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